By Ben Veghte
At 44, Christina Keys was at the height of her career at a successful tech company. That all changed when her 62-year-old mother suffered a stroke. Christina put aside her plans, her career and her salary to become her mother’s full-time carer.
Seven out of 10 Washington residents will need long-term care, and most don’t have savings or insurance to cover it. Christina quickly learned that her mother’s health insurance and extended health insurance did not cover the long-term care services her mother needed for daily living, such as help with dressing, eating , take a bath and wash up. She began paying for her mother’s care out of pocket, then out of their retirement savings, while giving up her salary.
We all want to age with dignity and independence. However, this goal is only achievable if the person needing care has the money to pay for it or if family members are willing and financially able to make the kind of sacrifices Christina has made.
Now there is a better way. To make long-term care affordable for all of us, Washington created the WA Cares Fund. We contribute to WA Cares while working and earning advantages to use when we need it. Since this program is self-funded by worker contributions, near-retirees will be the first to benefit, followed by all successive generations of state workers.
For Christina, the $36,500 WA Cares benefit (which is adjusted annually for inflation) would have covered about a year of services for her mother and given Christina time to plan for her mother’s care. Christina’s family could have used the allowance to hire a professional carer or compensate Christina for the time she spent caring for her mother and unable to work.
WA Cares is a unique program in the country and, like all new programs, needed tweaking. This year, the Legislature made key improvements that addressed common public concerns and set the WA Cares Fund on the path to success.
For each year of contribution, near-retirees (born before 1968) now earn 10% of the total benefit amount. If a near-retiree ends up working and contributing for 10 years or more, they will still receive full benefits.
Starting Jan. 1, workers who live out of state, military spouses, workers on nonimmigrant visas, and veterans with a service-connected disability of 70% or greater can choose to withdraw from the program.
These changes make the WA Cares Fund an even better offer for Washingtonians. Not only are WA Cares premiums cheaper on an annual basis for most workers than private long term care insurance, but they are much cheaper throughout life because we only pay WA Cares for that we work. With most private insurance, policyholders continue to pay after retirement until they die or need care. If they can’t afford to maintain coverage on a fixed income, they lose it. With WA Cares, women pay no more than men and no one is denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions.
In addition to making these improvements, the Legislature also directed the LTSS Trust Commission to research ways to make benefits portable for people who earn them but leave the state before claiming them.
By contributing to the WA Cares Fund, we are all better prepared to age with dignity and independence. WA Cares gives families peace of mind and allows them to focus on care, not cost, when a loved one needs help. WA Cares Fund will give you and your family more control over your quality of life in some of life’s most difficult times.
To learn more about the program and recent enhancements, visit wacaresfund.wa.gov.
Ben Veghte is the Director of the WA Cares Fund for the Washington State Department of Health and Social Services in Lacey, Washington.